Joe Biden on Tuesday launched a scathing attack on China for failing to show up at the UN’s Cop26 climate summit, and for failing to show leadership in the climate crisis.
The US president said it was a “big mistake” that his Chinese colleague had chosen not to attend the summit, where more than 120 world leaders have spent the last two days discussing ways to limit global temperature rise to 1.5C .
“We showed up,” Biden told a news conference, speaking before world leaders traveled to leave the floor to their ministers and officials in two weeks of tense negotiations.
“They did not show up … It’s a gigantic question and they just walked away,” he said, also criticizing Russia and Vladimir Putin.
“How do you do that and claim to have some leadership?”
China delivered a plan for emission reductions on the eve of the conference, which many analysts found disappointing. According to the plan, the world’s largest emitter will cause emissions to peak in 2030 and reach net zero by 2060, targets it had already set more than a year ago, and which, if not improved, will make it difficult for the world to stay within 1, 5C, the threshold beyond which scientists warn that some of the effects of climate collapse will be irreversible.
Earlier in the day, Biden made a point of joining the “high-ambition coalition” of developed and developing countries that ensured that the 1.5C limit was included in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, reinforcing calls on major executives to do more for to reduce carbon in this decade.
Biden added, however, that he did not seek conflict with China, indicating that he could take a softer stance if China stepped up more climate action. “This is competition, not conflict,” he said. “[Tackling the climate crisis] is an economic opportunity. ”
Biden’s words at his last press conference reflect a sharpening stance on China more generally during the negotiations, from developed countries that want the world’s second largest economy to move forward, especially in terms of phasing out coal, and developing countries that fear 1.5C the target will slide. out of reach without action to halve emissions in this decade.
China’s delegation in Glasgow, the experienced official Xie Zhenhua, was also in a straightforward mood earlier in the day, accusing developed countries of failing the rest of the world, by failing to reduce emissions quickly enough and by failing to supply developing countries. the world with $ 100 billion a year in climate finance, which has long been promised to help poor countries reduce emissions and cope with the effects of extreme weather. China does not receive climate finance, but sees itself as a champion of the interests of developing countries.
He defended China’s use of coal, saying it needed to build a limited number of new plants to bridge the gap, while China updated its energy network for more renewable energy, adding that the new plants were highly efficient and replaced old ones. inefficient plants that were being shut down.
But he said he had spoken in detail to John Kerry, Biden’s climate envoy, and to Britain’s Alok Sharma, who is presiding over the negotiations. He said these conversations had been “very constructive”.
Jean Su, director of energy law at the Center for Biological Diversity, said: “At Biden’s press conference, we saw whipped up from his rhetoric about climate in action. First, he asks Opec to pump more oil, and then he describes his concern about the horrors of climate change.
“To correct his climate ambition, it would be profound and shifting for him to return to Washington and declare a national climate emergency to stop crude oil exports. It’s just one of the tools Biden has to take transformative action. “Biden sounds as worried as the rest of us, but he has power unlike anyone else. For the sake of us and the planet, he has to use it.”
Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, delivered an optimistic assessment of the prospect of a deal at the conference that would keep the 1.5C target within reach, despite warning over the weekend that the chances were slim.